Monday, December 10, 2012
So You Won't Have To: Resident Evil - Retribution
Cap'n Howdy has a long and storied history with the Resident Evil franchise, and while I'm not proud to say I've seen all five films (three of them theatrically), I have seen all five of the Paul W.S. Anderson VGINM* "adaptations" of the Resident Evil games. Now, until the character of Alice (Milla Jovovich) appears in a Resident Evil game, it's not actually an adaptation of any game so much as cramming in characters, monsters, and locations into a vaguely related story.
As I mentioned in my Resident Evil: Afterlife review, the series is getting to the point where it's almost impossible to know what's going on if you haven't played the games. Afterlife, in particular, was chock full of unexplained plot elements you could only follow if you had finished Resident Evil 5, even though the movie itself had nothing to do with the story of Resident Evil 5. So while the movies don't bother copying the increasing theatrical nature of the games, "What Script" Anderson just takes things that wouldn't make any sense and using them as significant plot devices, like why returning hero Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory from Resident Evil: Apocalypse) is now a villain working for the eeeeeevil Umbrella Corporation.
But it doesn't matter, I guess, because people that still come to see Resident Evil movies at this point are either slavish in their devotion to the series or want to see how much stupider the films can get. I can't help the first group, but for the people I know who make a habit of seeing these as an example of "how can they make it worse than the last one?" you can sit Resident Evil: Retribution out. I promise. Allow me to explain.
How is it not a movie, you ask? Well, a movie has a plot, generally speaking one with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Retribution is missing at the very least two of those, and the other bit barely qualifies as "story." Filler, maybe.
There's no retribution in this "film," by the way, just a lot of recycling of elements from other Resident Evil movies, and the appearance of two characters from the games who hadn't yet been dragged into this mess, Leon Kennedy (Johann Urb) and Barry Burton (Kevin Durand)**.
Let's take a look at the "beginning" of the "story" of this "film": Retribution opens with the battle between Umbrella and Alice that Afterlife left as a cliffhanger already underway.
Yes, as in "played in reverse" and in slow motion in its entirety, until the helicopters approaching the boat Alice, Claire (Ali Larter) and Chris Redfield (Wentworth Miller) were on at the end of the last movie. Then we pull back into a room full of monitors while Alice explains the last four movies to us (I'm not kidding) in order to catch us up to the battle we've already seen, which then plays out (in slow motion) but forwards this time.
If that wasn't bad enough, after Alice is knocked into the water by a helicopter she causes to crash because we had to see the shotgun that fires quarters one more time, she wakes up in a suburban household with different hair. And she's now married to Carlos (Oded Fehr), but his name is Todd now, and they have a daughter, Becky (Arianna Engineer) who doesn't appear to be deaf but they still communicate with through sign language.
None of that really matters because this is all a prelude to Paul W.S. Anderson's remake of the opening of Zack Snyder's remake of Dawn of the Dead. Why? Because the Resident Evil films are in theory based on the Resident Evil games which were, at one point, about zombies. So we need zombies attacking the suburbs, zombies who run fast and break down doors and cause cars to crash and explode in almost exactly the same way that it happens in Dawn of the Dead. Because people liked that, right?
Almost everything that happens in Resident Evil: Retribution seems to be based on that idea. People liked seeing zombies attack, and they liked the big guy with the hammer / axe from the last movie. They loved the Licker, so that's in there too. And hey, let's bring back Michelle Rodriguez (Rain), Sienna Guillory (Jill Valentine), Oded Fehr (Carlos), Boris Kodjoe (Luther West), Bingbing Le (Ada Wong), Colin Salmon (James "One" Shade) and The Red Queen, played by a different little girl than in the first film although I honestly thought they just made a shitty digital version of the effect from the first film.
Oh, and Wesker (Shawn Roberts) is back, but this time he's a good guy.
"But didn't Shade die in the first movie? Don't they show him dying during the exposition scene in Retribution?"
Hey! I told you that it wasn't necessary to see this movie and you did it anyway?
Well, then you know that it involves clones - thousands and thousands of clones, and not just clones of Alice - that was the pointless subplot in Extinction and Afterlife. In addition to creating the T Virus, the Umbrella Corporation also runs underground facilities that can replicate Tokyo, Moscow, New York City, and "Suburbia" to run "doomsday scenarios" using clones of virtually every major cast member you remember from previous Resident Evil films.
With the exception, it would seem, of Ali Larter, Wentworth Miller, or Mike Epps***. They must have been busy that day.
They developed this facility in an abandoned Russian submarine factory so they could film these scenarios and sell their bioweapons to global superpowers, thus creating the zombie apocalypse that we hear about all the time but rarely see. Seriously, if you think The Walking Dead is short on scale and scope, most Resident Evil movies take place in Umbrella facilities with white light paneled walls. Almost ALL of Retribution takes place in this environment.
Now, this might just be me, but it seems like a MASSIVE waste of resources to clone thousands of people in gigantic underground facilities just to demonstrate your T Virus turns people into zombies with tentacle mouths, but how else are you going to explain to the producers why you need to film in Moscow, Tokyo, and (maybe) New York City?
And now we come to the "plot," a term I use loosely because when you "adapt" a video game into a movie, that means you can leave out the "we need to get through this stage and this stage so we can rendezvous with this team and escape before the timer runs down and the facility blows up." Paul W.S. Anderson clearly missed that part of screenwriting 101, so that's literally what Alice and Ada Wong have to do - clear the "New York" and "Suburbia" sections of the Umbrella facility to meet Leon, Barry, Luther, and some other Red Shirts in the Moscow stage.
That's it. Jill and clones of characters are in hot pursuit but none of them can die until our heroes get to the elevator, and a Licker shows up. Oh, and Ada and Alice have to fight TWO of the huge guys with hammer axes, because that's twice as cool, right?
Now I'm going to ask some reasonable questions that aren't answered in Resident Evil: Retribution.
Why is Wesker helping Alice? How did Umbrella attach the brainwashing mechanism to Jill? How did Luther escape from the tunnels in the last film and end up recruited by Ada's team? Why does Alice feel the need to bring along the clone of her nonexistent daughter other than to make part of Retribution also a ripoff of Aliens? Why does the Los Plagas virus now create zombie soldiers wearing Russian Infantry uniforms? Why are those zombie soldiers more interested in shooting people than eating them?
If evil Michelle Rodriguez clone can punch people hard enough that we get an ESPN Sports Science-style CGI shot of broken bones and that also causes your heart to stop, why is Alice able to get up but Luther is (presumably) killed? If Wesker had the ability to restore Alice's superpowers at the end of the film when she gets to the White House, why didn't he have Ada inject her with it in the underground facility? Wouldn't that make their escape MUCH EASIER? In fact, since Wesker also still has his stupid super powers, why does he even need Alice to be the "ultimate weapon"? He took her powers away in the first place, and apparently decided that she needed them back when he took over as President of the United States? What the fuck is going on in this movie?
Anyway, so Alice gets her powers back, Jill is returned to normal, and everything we spent the last hour and a half watching is basically undone. They go to the White House where Wesker is preparing for "humanity's final stand." There's an obviously digital camera pull-back that shows monsters preparing to attack Washington D.C., and we cut to black. That's it, movie's over. See you for Resident Evil: The Alamo or something like that.
Imagine, if you will, that The Two Towers left out everything related to Helm's Deep until the last ten minutes of the film, then cut to the Orcs and Uruk-hai marching to the walls and preparing to attack, and then Peter Jackson stopped the movie right there. No battle, not this time. Sorry guys, it's been 90 minutes and my shift is over. We should totally get together and finish this in like two years. You cool with that?
Okay, please stop punching me for comparing Resident Evil to The Lord of the Rings and answer the question.
You aren't? Well, I'm sure you won't remember how you paid twenty bucks to see a 90 minute trailer when the next movie comes out. Why don't you go rent Death Race when you get home? That movie was fun, right? And Event Horizon! You always trot that out when people say "Paul W.S. Anderson never made a good movie in his life!" Now you guys make sure to buy the 3D Blu-Ray next month so you can relive when Alice shot the quarters at that pilots face again!
So yeah. Maybe this So You Won't Have To review is suddenly causing you to NEED TO SEE THIS MOVIE RIGHT NOW, but I can assure you that it's a waste of your time. What the previous paragraphs don't convey is how tedious, unengaging, and perfunctory the "action" in this "action movie" are. Not only does it not make any sense, but like almost all of Paul W.S. Anderson's films, it can't even be vexing in an entertaining fashion. It's just lifeless and bland, and it makes me long for the terrible yet gonzo charm of Ghost Rider.
Yeah. Ghost Rider. Get it now? That's why I watched Resident Evil: Retribution.
So You Won't Have To.
* Video Game in Name, Mostly
** To be fair, I didn't realize that was who Durand was playing until he pulled out his signature pistol, RIGHT BEFORE HE DIED.
*** Maybe you can't be cloned if you were eaten by zombie crows.